Depression and Epilepsy: What’s the Connection?

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Depression and epilepsy share a strong connection. In fact, depression commonly occurs alongside epilepsy: Around 23 percent of people with epilepsy have or have had depression. By comparison, around 5 percent of the general population of U.S. adults have regular feelings of depression.

If you are living with epilepsy and experience or have experienced depression, know that you are certainly not alone. Understanding the causes and risk factors of depression, as well as ways to manage the condition, can help.

Causes of Depression

There are several potential causes of depression. Some are outside your control, such as neurological changes and medical conditions, which is the case for someone with epilepsy. Sometimes things change and depression passes, whereas sometimes it remains.

What’s the Difference Between Depression and Sadness?

Whereas sadness generally passes after a day or a week, depression is a mood disorder that sticks around and severely impacts everyday functioning. A depression diagnosis requires the presence of at least five symptoms of depression every day for at least two weeks. Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in pastimes or activities
  • Fatigue or reduced energy
  • Trouble with sleeping, waking up early, or sleeping too much
  • Shifts in appetite or unintentional weight gain
  • Aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Suicidal thoughts

Living with epilepsy can lead to disruptions in quality of life, which can lead to any one of these symptoms. If they linger, reach out to a doctor or mental health professional, such as one trained in psychiatry. It’s common to have depression or another mood disorder, such as anxiety, when living with epilepsy, and it’s OK to ask for help.

Risk Factors for Depression and Epilepsy

Research on the connection between epilepsy and depression as a comorbidity, or co-occurring condition, is ongoing. There is evidence to show a relationship between the conditions, but the risk of developing one from the other is not always clear.

One common risk factor between epilepsy and depression may involve genetics. However, the association between genes and epilepsy is complex, and researchers say genetic testing may not be sufficient to show a certain genetic predisposition. The jury is still out as to whether depression and epilepsy share a genetic component.

Learn more about genetics and epilepsy.

Does Epilepsy Cause Depression?

There is evidence to show that epilepsy connects to depression through both psychological and neurological pathways.

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